As COVID first swept Washington, union workers in healthcare, education, and child care stepped up to support our communities. Many extended existing union contracts – meaning no raises in 2021. Now, in 2022, the state must fully fund the contracts we bargained to ensure competitive wages and benefits that attract and retain public sector workers.
**Lee esto en español** ~ **Af-Soomaali ku akhri arrintan**
The COVID pandemic revealed the fragile balancing act small businesses navigate to stay open and support our communities. The Legislature should:
- Allow bargaining over retirement plans: In the past, some politicians decided to save money by preventing child care providers from bargaining retirement benefits through our union, essentially saying that women (especially women of color) would be on their own at the end of their career. It doesn’t have to be this way. By supporting House Bill 1771 to allow for a defined contribution retirement plan, child care providers can start to save for their future.
- Make subsidy audits more efficient: We all want a level playing field where small businesses can thrive and support families. Unfortunately, all the bureaucratic red tape means that child care providers who accept subsidies from families that qualify can end up spending more time on record-keeping than in the classroom. The Legislature should streamline subsidy audits across agencies. This would reduce administrative costs to the state and make the rules easier to understand and follow for providers.
HEALTHCARE: Safe Staffing
Hospitals across Washington are short-staffed, leaving healthcare workers to work longer hours and take care of more patients. It’s unsafe and unsustainable. But we had a hospital staffing shortage long before the pandemic, as a result of years of financially-motivated decisions by hospital executives to not invest in safe staffing. The pandemic exacerbated these already-existing shortages. Now we’re in a full-blown crisis as countless overworked and under-valued healthcare workers have left over the last year and a half for safer working conditions, better paying work, or left the field entirely. The Legislature should:
- Set safe staffing standards that protect each healthcare worker from dangerously high patient loads. This will let them do their jobs safely and give patients the care they deserve.
- Enforce existing laws regarding overtime, meals, and rest breaks. We need to ensure our healthcare workers get their legally required break time and that hospitals end the abuse of mandatory overtime.
When schools closed in March of 2020 in response to COVID-19, bus drivers, paraeducators, and other school district staff stepped up to support students in remote learning. Now, those same workers are helping students succeed in a socially distanced, masked-up in-person learning environment – but some school districts have not stepped up to do their part. Too many schools are short custodians, paras, drivers, and other key staff, hurting everyone’s ability to serve kids. The Legislature should invest in school district classified staff to ensure that students have the support they need to succeed.
Regardless of our economic status, race, or gender, we can agree that all workers deserve a safe working environment free of harassment. The COVID pandemic has highlighted how valuable cleaning staff are, whether they work in a rural hospital, a suburban school district, or a downtown office skyscraper. But greedy corporations have cut costs so they can increase profits, resulting in unsafe working conditions. Cleaning staff commonly develop arthritis, carpal tunnel, sprains, strains and tears, back pain, and hernias as a result of their work. The Legislature should direct Labor & Industries to regulate ergonomics and reduce these preventable injuries.
Too many Washington families struggle to afford a place they can call home. One-size-fits-all detached-house zoning doesn’t help families who are priced out of the communities where they work. By failing to allow enough housing, elected leaders have pushed prices and rents out of reach, harming low-income and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) residents the most. The Legislature should:
- Ensure that all tenants can find and afford housing that is right for them and their families. This includes passing the Housing Justice Act, which prevents landlords from denying housing solely based on a tenant or family member’s previous arrest or incarceration, and prevents rent gouging and the displacement that follows.
- Reform land use and zoning laws that are rooted in a legacy of racial injustice and that leave communities vulnerable to climate catastrophes.
- Address restrictive zoning laws that prevent affordable, dense, and missing middle-housing types.
- Expand the kinds of accessory dwelling units (ADU) and places that they are allowed.
- Include climate in the Growth Management Act, to protect our communities from floods, fires, and sprawl in the future.
- Remove duplicative community councils with veto power over land use decisions that prevent the creation of housing options.
All people deserve access to housing, but the kind of affordable and accessible housing needed to bring everyone inside will never be solved by a profit-minded marketplace. This means investing $400 million for rapid acquisition and for the building of new deeply affordable homes across our state. Washington is short almost 200,000 affordable homes for our lowest income households. State-level investments are crucial, and 2022 presents a unique opportunity to close this gap.